From personal struggles to poetic expression: Dornsife fellow Douglas Manuel publishes a book about his identity

Sofia Bosch | Daily Trojan

Douglas Manuel stumbled upon poetry by chance.

Manuel, a Middleton and Dornsife Fellow and a doctoral candidate in literature and creative writing, focuses his writing on the turmoil confronting a black man in 21st-century America.

Earlier this year, Manuel published his first collection of poems in a book, Testify, where he spoke on  these issues.

His works have been featured on the Poetry Foundation’s website and have won him multiple awards — yet Manuel did not originally plan to become a poet.

Manuel began his literary career as an undergraduate student studying creative writing at Arizona State University, where he delved into fiction writing. Yet he explains that fiction writing just didn’t seem to stick.

“What I realized is that I kind of wrote the same story every time, kind of this young black guy that can’t find himself, who has lots of white friends, so he feels out of place,” Manuel said.

Mentor and English professor Bob Haynes suggested that Manuel take his poetry class, and Manuel was hooked immediately.

“I found friends dead and alive in poetry books — then I wanted to see if I could do it,” Manuel said. “Also, I knew I wanted to do something with the least injustice as possible to the world. One of my favorite quotes from Mark Doty is, ‘The world will never be worse off from somebody creating another poem.’”

Manuel’s poems are rooted in his upbringing and coming-of-age experiences, and his reconciliation with the looming questions of his identity as he is caught between two worlds: his father’s house and his private Catholic school.

“I think the two biggest catalysts of Testify would be my mom’s death when I was 8 and my father’s long prison sentence,” Manuel said. “I was raised by my auntie … so, I was always kind of straddling those two worlds. I was always told when I was in the black space … I wasn’t black enough and then when I was at school, suddenly, I was too black — I always felt out of place.”

Manuel’s personal struggles were reflected in his poems, as he worked to figure out who he was, beyond the influence of society and his father’s past.

As a poet, some of Manuel’s biggest literary inspirations include black poets Yusef Komunyakaa and James Baldwin. Manuel writes for 30 minutes to an hour a day and explains that conquering the blank page is the most difficult part of writing .

While the young poet doesn’t believe in writer’s block, he acknowledges the hurdles of getting started and encourages writers to always put something at the top of the page, whether that be the prompt or a quote, just to get the ball rolling.

In addition to pursuing a doctorate degree, Manuel was also the poetry editor for Gold Line Press and a managing editor for Ricochet Editions, a small line of presses run by students and alumni from the university’s Ph. D. program in creative writing. Manuel’s poems have also appeared in numerous places including the Rhino, North American Review, The Chattahoochee Review, New Orleans Review, Crab Creek Review and Many Mountains Moving.

Manuel also has poetry readings on a regular basis, where he aims to bring body to the poetry he is so passionate about. He also recently performed a poetry reading at the Claremont Public Library on Sunday.

However, Manuel is only getting started. Upon finishing up his doctorate degree, Manuel hopes to jump into the worlds of academia, publishing or nonprofits.